In my family, we don’t force our kids to hug or kiss family members.
Here’s why: We believe that forcing physical affection teaches our kids that they aren’t in charge of who touches their bodies. If one of our kids ends up in the horrible situation of having an adult touch them in an inappropriate way, we want our kids to feel confident in saying no and getting the heck outta dodge to a safe place.
My husband and I have people in our lives who were abused as children, so we are dead serious when it comes to teaching the concept of consent and keeping our children safe from that fate.
But That’s Not the Point
Maybe you think our approach is rude, or maybe you see where we’re coming from and you even handle this issue the same way.
Regardless of where you stand with this situation, here’s something we can agree on: Sometimes, a kid just doesn’t feel like hugging grandma or Uncle Bob or that well-meaning family friend who insists on pinching kids’ cheeks…HARD.
Maybe the child needed some extra time to warm up to family after not seeing them for a while. Maybe the child has a case of the hangries and isn’t in the mood for physical affection. Maybe she doesn’t feel like having sore cheeks the rest of the day.
Whatever the reason, it happens. Especially around the holidays.
You make the trip to visit grandma for the first time in months – maybe years – and grandma holds out her arms for a hug while your child just…stands there.
How to Prepare Your Child for That Moment
Before you end up in that situation, teach your child this phrase:
Hug, handshake, or high-five?
Practice it at home. Set a doll up on the couch and pretend she’s grandma. Then walk up to grandma with your child, turn to your little one, and say, “Hug, handshake, or high-five?”
In the car before you get out to walk up to a house full of extended family members, talk through the scenario.
Then when you’re inside the house and your child hesitates in the moment of greeting, say it out loud to remind your child and get the family member up to speed: “Hug, handshake, or high-five?”
Why This Works When Kids Shy Away From Hugging
This greeting puts the child in the driver’s seat of deciding the level of touch she feels comfortable with. Most adults will happily return a high-five or handshake. Those are both positive alternatives to a more intimate hug, which the child may not be ready for.
And whatever you call it when a child is uncomfortable in these social situations – shy, introverted, or slow-to-warm – this solution works.
Plus? “Hug, handshake, or high-five” is catchy and easy to remember.
I’ve been told by teachers that the “hug, handshake, or high-five” greeting comes from a classroom management strategy called Conscious Discipline created by Dr. Becky Bailey. If you like the idea of this greeting, you will probably enjoy Dr. Bailey’s book for parents called Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation.
If your child prefers fist bumps, waving, or blowing kisses, those are all great alternatives too.
Source: The (Reformed) Idealist Mom